Video: Piney Point containment wall breach in Manatee County, Florida
Congressman Vern Buchanan got an aerial tour of the Piney Point reservoir breach, pumping outflow and Tampa Bay on Monday, April 5, 2021.
Mike Lang, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
As wastewater from the old Piney Point fertilizer plant property in Manatee County continued to be pumped out Wednesday at a rate of 38 million gallons a day and dumped into Tampa Bay, state officials announced two companies have been hired to treat the water before discharging.
“The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) tasked two innovative technology companies to initiate nutrient reduction and removal treatments from water on-site prior to discharging to Port Manatee,” DEP said in a press release that provided no other details on the treatment effort.
Funding for the Piney Point cleanup effort also advanced in the Florida Legislature on Wednesday, work was expected to proceed on patching a leak in a wastewater containment pond liner and environmentalists criticized past state oversight efforts.
With engineers determining Tuesday that the immediate crisis of a catastrophic flood inundating nearby properties no longer is a concern, attention now is squarely on DEP efforts to stop the dumping of polluted Piney Point water into Tampa Bay.
DEP has been discharging the polluted, nutrient-rich water to alleviate pressure on a breach in the containment pond wall and avert a full collapse of the wall. A leak in the pond liner led to water seeping out of the bottom and forming the breach.
About 480 million gallons were in the containment pond before the crisis began and 258 million gallons remained Wednesday, according to DEP. Roughly 173 million gallons have been discharged into the bay, while some wastewater has been contained on site.
A dive team and remote operated submersible vehicle were scheduled to be deployed to the bottom of the pond Wednesday at 2 p.m. to investigate repairing the liner.
“Our goal is to stop discharging to the bay as soon as possible, as soon as it is structurally sound and safe because we want to minimize the impact to the environment,” said DEP spokeswoman Shannon Herbon. “As soon as our engineers believe that is safe to be done that will happen.”
DEP also is exploring options to store the discharged water so it can be disposed of elsewhere and not dumped into the bay. Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes has mentioned using barges and storage tanks, but Herbon didn’t have more details on those efforts Wednesday.
“I know they’re looking at pumping water and storing it offsite, again to minimize impact to the bay,” she said.
Even after the wastewater dumping ceases, Piney Point still poses a major environmental threat until the containment ponds are fully drained and the phosphogypsum stacks that the ponds sit on are closed. The cleanup will be a costly process, but state leaders are pushing legislation to use money from the recent $1.9 trillion…